The short answer to this question is provided in the “About Homespring” section on this website. The longer and more detailed answer is as follows:
Water makes up between 55% to 60% of our body. Most health guidelines suggest drinking approximately 1.5 to 2 litres of water each day. We also consume water when drinking other drinks such as tea and coffee, and it is a vital ingredient in cooking. As a result of this, the quality and amount of water we drink is critical to our health and a fundamental part our diet.
It is commonly taken for granted that the drinking water that comes out of our taps is healthy and contaminant-free. Just because it is clear and tastes neutral people assume their water is OK to drink. It is often forgotten that water is an excellent solvent (i.e. other substances dissolve easily inside it) and it can host a range of harmful substances, viruses and bacteria which may be impossible to see or taste.
Many people buy bottled water because they either don’t like the taste of their tap water, or they are concerned about contaminants. Installing a water filter at home therefore not only saves you the cost and effort of buying bottled water, it is also much better for the environment and reduces plastic waste.
Why Filter Water?
Harmful contaminants in drinking water
For the past 100 years, significant progress has been made so that many people (especially in the developed world) are provided with drinking water that is safe to drink. Arguably the most significant advancement to public health in water treatment was the introduction of the chemical element chlorine to water supplies (which is still used today). The use of chlorine in water treatment to kill harmful bacteria and viruses is one of the main reasons why we no longer suffer from water borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid. These diseases killed thousands of people annually before disinfection methods were routinely used.
However, since the 1990s there has been a growing body of scientific research associating human exposure to chlorine in drinking water with health problems. Alongside questions about chlorine’s direct effect on our health, there are concerning issues being raised about the interaction between chlorine and other chemical disinfectants like chloramine with other substances present in water. Reactions between these substances form disinfection by-products called Trihalomethanes (THMs) that are associated with a variety of adverse health effects. These include asthma, dermatological problems, reproductive issues, and bladder and rectal cancers.
In addition to the presence of chlorine and chlorinated by-products (THMs) in drinking water there are also risks that heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium can enter into our water supply. These metals originate from the ground as well as from old water supply pipes. Depending on the quantity present in a given location, the ingestion of these metals over time can have serious health effects. Organic compounds like pesticides and insecticides can also find their way into water supplies. They are usually found as a result of ‘run off’ from agricultural land. Finally, toxic substances, synthetic oestrogens, detergents and other chemicals used domestically and in industry that enter the sewerage system can also work their way back into our water supplies used for drinking.
Most developed water treatment industries are effective at removing the majority of these contaminants. However, the effectiveness of removal is extremely variable and exposure to even trace levels of these contaminants may pose serious long-term health risks. Finally, even if the majority of contaminants are removed at a water treatment site, there is still a risk that the supply pipes used leach harmful substances (e.g. lead) back into the drinking water.
Proving a correlation with certainty between the ingestion of trace levels of chlorine and other potentially harmful substances in drinking water on human health is extremely difficult. There are too many other variables that need to be considered and the monitoring period is too long (at least ten years). The main evidence that exists are specific cases in various parts of the world where there is a distinctly elevated harmful substance present in drinking water that can be associated with a health problem with scientific certainty.
Our approach is simple: why take the risk when you could just filter your water!
Testing your drinking water
It is very difficult to test the quality of your drinking water without sending a sample to a laboratory for comprehensive testing. Even then it would need to be done several times for consistency in results. Some people refer to the level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in water to show “purity”. Standard tap water usually has between 200 to 500 mgs of TDS per litre.
We think TDS as a measurement of water quality is ineffective because it does not show some of the most harmful contaminants in water such as disinfection by-products (THMs), volatile organic compounds, chlorine, chloramines, microbial cysts and lead (none of these register on a home TDS meter). Furthermore, some natural minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, found in water which are important for health will show on a TDS meter!
However, some simple tests you can do at home which won’t cost you any money include:
- Tasting your water! Does it taste like chlorine? This may be an indication that there is an elevated level of chlorine and THMs present in your drinking water.
- Boiling your tap water in a pan and smelling the aroma. Can you smell chlorine? This may be an indication that there is an elevated level of chlorine and THMs present in your drinking water.
- Looking inside your kettle. Is there a significant amount of limescale? This could be an indication that you live in a hard water area.
These simple home tests are informative but will not tell you how pure your water is – they just give an indication. Our view is that if you can smell and taste chlorine (which is a chemical element used for disinfection) why would you want to drink the water?
Our approach is simple: why take any risks when you could just filter your water!
Benefits of filtered water
We are convinced that the health benefits of drinking filtered tap water are significant. As a society we are increasingly aware of the importance of a healthy diet, yet over 90% of what we consume each day is water. The water we consume should be given just as much consideration as our diet.
For many people, drinking bottled mineral water is a way to avoid the potential risks of tap water. Whilst this removes many of the health risks, in our view it is not a good solution as consuming bottled mineral water is expensive, not practical given the need to purchase and transport heavy bottles, and is extremely damaging to the environment.
These are some of the main reasons to use/install a water filter and drink filtered water:
Used water filters
Is it bad to remove all the dissolved solids in drinking water?
The type of filter you use will determine what is removed from your water. Some filters, such as Reverse Osmosis Filters will remove all of the harmful contaminants in your drinking water. On the other hand, certain In Line Filters will remove chlorine, THMs and other chemicals but will not remove inorganic contaminants such as arsenic and asbestos, heavy metals, certain microbiological contaminants, and radionuclides.
However, it is important to understand that current filtering technologies cannot discriminate between bad chemicals and good minerals that could be present in your water. The filters will remove all of these. Some people criticise water filters on this basis but we (along with many other authorities) disagree with this criticism for the following reasons:
- Water is not a significant source of the minerals your body needs. If you drank a bathtub full of water a day you might get 10% of the minerals your body needs. You receive most of the essential vitamins and minerals from having a well-balanced diet, not from water.
- The health benefits of drinking contaminant fee water greatly outweigh the advantages of drinking water that has some good minerals but contains harmful contaminants. In short, it is best to remove these contaminants and minerals and eat a good diet!
- To prove the point, pick a mineral that you are interested in and research the best source for that mineral. It doesn’t matter which one you choose because a natural food source like vegetables, meat, or dairy will be at the top of the list. You may also find supplements recommended, but you will not find tap water.
- We sell Reverse Osmosis Filters that reintroduce trace amounts of minerals (e.g. magnesium and calcium) that were removed in the filtration process. We don’t think these are necessary for the reasons outlined above but if you are concerned about removing minerals then these products should put your mind at ease.
Types of water filter and what they remove
We sell a wide variety of water filters. The first category are simple water filter bottles and jugs that contain ground carbon filters and do a reasonable job at filtering out some chemicals such as chlorine and THMs. More advanced water filters contain “activated carbon”. These filters typically come in the form of a cylinder (through which the water passes) and are connected directly to you mains water supply underneath your kitchen sink (these are known as Under Counter – In Line Filters. These filters remove 99% of chlorine and are very effective at removing THMs, pesticides and other organic compounds. These filters also remove bad tastes and odours from water.
However, carbon filters are not effective at removing heavy metals and dissolved inorganic contaminants such as microbial cysts, arsenic, asbestos, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, mercury, nickel, nitrates, selenium, sulfate, thallium and other contaminants.
In order to remove these additional contaminants it is necessary to use reverse osmosis technology. Reverse osmosis filters force water through a semi-permeable membrane – a thin, pliable sheet that allows some molecules through it but not others. When combined with an activated carbon filter (all the reverse osmosis filters we sell include a carbon filter as well) they are the most effective water filtration technology available and remove 99% of harmful contaminants that may be present in tap water.
An important consideration to be aware of is that regardless of what water filter you use, the filters (i.e. the cylinders under the sink) will need to be replaced. Filters in water jugs usually require changing every two months but often they indicate when they require changing. Filters in activated carbon and reverse osmosis systems typically require changing once a year.
How do water filters work?
The filters we sell all work differently but they all involve water passing through a filter which removes any contaminants present.
In Line Filters (carbon filters) typically consist of one filter that is connected to the mains water supply. When the tap is turned on, the mains water passes through the filter and any contaminants such as chlorine and THMs are removed as the contaminants are attracted to the carbon inside the filter (carbon is a very reactive element).
Reverse osmosis filters are often used in parallel with carbon filters. They are usually made up of a three step filter that utilises a semi-permeable membrane to allow the passage of water molecules, but filters out approximately 99% of the harmful contaminants. Reverse osmosis uses high pressure to force water through the semi-permeable membrane in order to remove the contaminants.